Shaquille O'Neal On The Shocking Statistics For Heart Failure And African-Americans That Got Him To Go See A Doctor

The legendary baller opens up about a new initiative, plus his son's heart health.

Shaquille O’Neal is man of many passions, and aside from his many business side hustles, he recently found time to lend his support to a powerful health initiative that is a matter of life or death for African-Americans. The new "Shaquille Gets Real About Heart Failure" campaign is designed to raise awareness around the heart-failure disparity in the Black community. The fact is that African-Americans are more likely than people in other ethnic groups to get heart failure, are more likely to be hospitalized for their heart failure, and are more likely to die earlier than others with heart failure. Five-and-a-half million Americans suffer from heart failure — an appalling statistic that Shaq was shocked to hear.

“I have a voice and I just want people to go out and consult with their doctors and consult with their physicians. I want to be the one to make a change, so I did this partnership with Arbor Pharmaceuticals. We’re going be looking to make a change,” the legendary retired baller told BET.

Although Shaq does not have heart failure himself, after learning that there is a medicine approved specifically for African-American patients with heart failure and the disproportionate way it effects the African-American community, he decided that a partnership with Arbor Pharma was necessary. It’s all about encouraging African-American patients with heart failure or those experiencing the symptoms to talk to their doctor.

“As an African-American male, I can say sometimes I’m the one that looks in the mirror and think I’m super healthy, and I never get checked out. I just want to give people the information and say, ‘Hey, consult your doctor, consult a physician and get help.’”

Shaq is featured in a set of online educational videos about these topics as part of the campaign along with Dr. Elizabeth Ofili, a cardiologist with the Morehouse School of Medicine and the first woman president of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC).

“I’ve never had a doctor, so she gave me the mom voice. I definitely went out and got a doctor, but I just want my community to be aware and know that there are people out there that care for them.”

Dr. Ofili provided some clarity to BET on heart health:

“Sometimes when people hear heart failure, they think the heart has stopped. We want to focus on the fact that what actually happens with the heart is a progressive problem sometimes. People don’t know they have it, and then when they start feeling the symptoms, like they’re short of breath or they’re experience swelling, they can’t breathe when they’re lying down — that’s essentially saying that the heart muscle has gotten weaker. There’s not enough blood going around because the oxygen level is not as high. This can be progressive over months, sometimes years, so we want people to just be alert to the types of symptoms that they can have. 

“There is significant disparities because African-Americans are actually less aware of the risks, and then whenever they have even the earliest symptoms of heart failure, they don’t go in soon enough. So they’re being diagnosed much later. And then the other problem is that for a long time the treatment was not as available, and now we have options. New therapies are out there.” 

While not heart failure, Shaq’s oldest son, Shareef O’Neal, had a health scare when he had to undergo surgery for a heart-related condition mid basketball season. The 18-year-old UCLA freshman recovered from the procedure just fine and recently shared an update on how he’s doing. 

“It was tough. The only thing I could do was try to be there for him. I’ve had 10 surgeries. Not a heart surgery, but I’ve had 10 surgeries, so I kind of walked him through what was going to happen. I got some good doctors out there that worked on him. But he’ll be fine. I just want to spread this message for my community that you need to go out and get checked,” said Shaq regarding Shareef’s ordeal.

To learn more about "Shaquille Gets Real About Heart Failure," visit

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